AG: Md. Robocalls Meant to Suppress Turnout

Wednesday, 10 Nov 2010 07:00 PM

 

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BALTIMORE (AP) — A political operative is facing a federal complaint over Election Day robocalls that told supporters of incumbent Gov. Martin O'Malley to relax because he had won, a message the state attorney general said Wednesday was intended to suppress turnout.

Investigators, however, have "absolutely no reason to believe" that O'Malley's Republican opponent, former Gov. Robert Ehrlich, or his staff were aware of the calls, Attorney General Doug Gansler said. O'Malley won his rematch against Ehrlich and will serve a second term.

"We believe that we have captured the two people and the company that were involved," Gansler said.

Defendants could be fined $500 for each violation, an amount the complaint said should be tripled because the violations were knowing and willful. In that case, the damages could total more than $168 million, which Gansler said was unlikely.

Gansler filed the complaint against Julius Henson, his company Universal Elections Inc., and Rhonda Russell, an employee of the company. The complaint alleges more than 112,000 prerecorded calls were made, failing to identify who was responsible for the calls or provide a phone number as required by law.

Henson has acknowledged responsibility for the call, which he said was not intended to suppress the vote and that he did not believe it was illegal. Mark Hampton, who owns Pennsylvania-based Robodial.org, has said the call was sent without his company's knowledge.

Gansler said local, federal or state prosecutors could bring criminal charges.

Robocalls are unsolicted, automated telephone calls and are an inexpensive tool that can be used to reach voters in a certain area or to reach certain types of voters.

The call in question said O'Malley and President Barack Obama "have been successful," adding that "everything is fine" and the only thing left to do was watch the election results on television.

Gansler said his office has a list of the people called, and investigators have not found a Republican yet on that list. The attorney general said his office pursued the action because the calls were not made to persuade people to vote for one candidate or another, but to suppress turnout, much like poll taxes or other methods used in the past to keep voters from the polls.

"We do not tolerate this type of behavior in Maryland," Gansler said.

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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